The Apple iPad Air 2 comes in a typical Apple white box featuring a print of the tablet's profile on the top and iPad Air inscribed on the sides. To open the package you need to slide the box out from underneath the cover which happens in a slow, almost calculated motion. Any attempt to apply force may cause the iPad to slip out of its nest and hit the floor, ouch. That's what we did on our hands-on video but, fortunately, no harm done.
Inside the box, you'll find the tablet itself, some leaflets, a set of Apple stickers, a lightning cable and a two-piece A/C adapter (2.5A).
Once the short-lived unboxing excitement receded, the new Apple iPad Air 2 had all of our attention. The immediate reaction upon picking up the tablet was one of awe at its thinness. And that was before we even noticed the shiny new Touch ID home button.
Last year Apple released its first iPad with the Air moniker. It marked a significant move towards premium looks and comfort of handling. While the world seemed resigned to the idea that a 10" tablet (in this case an almost 10" tablet) just has to be unwieldy and awkward to hold for longer periods of time, Apple did away with the notion. The first iPad Air was 1.2mm shorter, 16.2mm narrower and 1.9mm thinner than its predecessor. And if that wasn't insane enough it was a whopping 183g lighter. This year, Apple's effort is more subdued but still keeping that same direction.
The Apple iPad Air 2 isn't new in terms of aesthetics but feels new in the hand. It's because Apple managed to shave another 1.4mm off its profile and further reduced its weight by 32g, rounding up to a very acceptable 437g (Wi-Fi version).
The Apple iPad Air 2 retains the core design and exterior features of its predecessor. It's still built around a 9.7" 1536 x 2048px LED-backlit IPS LCD. The edges are still precision chamfered and the corners still rounded off for a better grip and feel in the palm.
The back is still predominantly flat, but slightly curved towards the edges. The Space Gray is still just as silvery as before but Apple have a new Gold option for their iPad Air 2 as well.
Last year Apple released its first powerful mini iPad which shared the highlights of the original iPad Air - the screen had the same high resolution, both tablets used the same 64-bit A7 chipset, size being the sole differentiator. This year, the new iPad Air 2 is clearly superior: it's slimmer (6.1mm vs 7.5mm) and has the better A8X chipset compared to the iPad mini 3 carrying over the A7 from last year. The Air 2 has 2GB of RAM (double that of the mini 3) and the only things the two tablets share, on the outside, are the Touch ID home button and the golden color option.
The design hasn't changed much since the original iPad Air but the second-gen device feels different. The new Apple iPad Air 2 is slimmer and lighter, while the Touch ID home button looks more elegant against the all-black front, a piece of flat sapphire glass within a metal ring.
Apple have kept the balanced design of its flagship tablet making the iPad Air 2 just as great to handle as its predecessor. The thinner profile and reduced size make the right kind of difference.
We like the fact that the iPad Air 2 is still just as rounded at the corners and just as flat on the back. The sharp chamfered edges give that "welcome home" feel that seasoned iPad owners will appreciate.
The bezels on all four sides are not strikingly slim but not too wide either. The top and bottom bezels are a bit wider and offer just enough space for you to comfortably hold the iPad Air 2 landscape, without accidentally touching the screen.
Everything is where you'd expect it to be on the new iPad Air 2. The front holds the new 9.7" display which is a main reason for the 18% thinner profile. Apple laminated three screen layers into a single sheet, complete with an antireflective coating that promises a better viewing experience outdoors. Apple call this a fully laminated display.
Underneath the display is where the new home button is. The Touch ID is an elaborate fingerprint-scanning device. On the surface of it you have a laser-cut sapphire crystal top and stainless steel ring. The latter detects your finger while the sensor beneath the crystal scans the image and proceeds to unlock your device.
The Touch ID sensor can detect a fingerprint in 360 degrees meaning that every angle you go for will allow you to unlock the tablet.
There's also a new FaceTime HD front facing camera. It's the same 1.2MP unit capable of just 720p video but now has gotten a wider f/2.2 aperture that can let more light in.
The left-hand side (portrait) of the Apple iPad Air 2 has no controls while the right features the volume rocker that's comprised of two metal buttons, each recessed into their own nest in the housing. They're easy to locate by touch and have nice press. The iPad Air 2 has mysteriously lost the mute/rotation switch above the volume keys. Where it used to be there's now one of the two available microphones. Speaking of which, the second mic is new for this generation of the Air and allows for ambient noise cancellation during FaceTime calls.
The bottom is where the stereo speakers reside, each under its own grille. Their placement isn't ideal - one, they're on the same side and two, it's easy enough to cover one up with your palm when holding the device landscape to watch video.
The power button is in the top right, 3.5mm jack in the opposite corner.
The second microphone is on the back of the Apple iPad Air 2. It's a close neighbor of the new 8MP iSight camera which Apple is really proud of. It represents a 3MP bump in resolution but has the same aperture. What makes the camera different is the new Apple A8X chip and its image signal processor that allows improved face-detection, better noise reduction and 120-fps slow motion that wasn't available on the older iPad Air.